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KEMBLE, WILLIAM, army officer, office holder, printer, editor, and jp; b. 1781 in Clapham (London); m. Rebecca Franks, and they had two sons who died in infancy and a daughter; d. 5 March 1845 at Quebec.

William Kemble, who came from an important merchant family in London, received an education in the classics and left to settle in the Canadas in 1802. He first lived in Upper Canada, where he became acquainted with Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*, and then in 1807 took up residence at Quebec. He joined the British army, becoming an ensign in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on 26 April 1810 and a lieutenant in the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles on 6 Feb. 1812. On 12 July 1812 he was appointed assistant military secretary to Governor Sir George Prevost* at Quebec, a post he retained until he rejoined his regiment in July 1813. In April or May 1814 he was attached to the Volunteer Incorporated Militia Battalion of Upper Canada, in which he served as paymaster. On 25 July he took part in the battle against the Americans at Lundy’s Lane. He was put on half pay in June 1816 and remained on it until 1826.

In May 1813 Kemble and his family had moved into the second floor of master carpenter Jean-Baptiste Bédard*’s house at the corner of Rue Saint-Joachim and Rue Saint-François (Rue d’Youville), in the faubourg Saint-Jean at Quebec. When the war with the United States ended, he received various military and civilian posts. In 1816 he was appointed king’s printer for Upper Canada and moved to York (Toronto). Writing on 20 August, he appealed to John Neilson, the king’s printer for Lower Canada, to supply him with coats of arms and a schedule of rates. But in 1817 he had to hand his job over to printer Robert Charles Horne.

Kemble returned to Quebec and in 1823 became editor of the Quebec Mercury [see Thomas Cary* Jr]. Three years later his brother Francis, a merchant in London, gave him the financial help that enabled him to invest in the New Printing Office, which published the paper. On 5 Dec. 1826 he thus became a partner of Pierre-Édouard Desbarats* and Thomas Cary Jr in the concern. Shortly before, on 2 November, he had again been appointed king’s printer, this time for Lower Canada, conjointly with John Charlton Fisher. In 1826 Kemble was also made a justice of the peace for the district of Quebec, and his commission was renewed two years later.

Kemble failed to comply with certain agreements between himself and his brother, and on 15 Dec. 1828 Francis made lawyer Robert Christie* and Quebec merchant William Stevenson his proxies for the purpose of cancelling his loan. On 6 Aug. 1829 he did an about-face and, according to the notarized deed, as a “good brother” lent the necessary money to William’s wife Rebecca; she, along with Cary Jr and Josette Voyer, the widow of Desbarats, then became owners of the New Printing Office.

Kemble, who retained his place as associate king’s printer until 1841, nevertheless kept a connection with the New Printing Office and continued as editor of the Quebec Mercury until 1842. He was renowned as a newspaperman. It was said that his memory and his knowledge of historical facts were remarkable, and he was induced to contribute to several periodicals, including the prestigious Simmonds Colonial Magazine and Foreign Miscellany of London.

Kemble took an active part in social life at Quebec. On 16 Oct. 1835, for example, with some fellow citizens of British origin who met at the Albion Hotel on the Côte du Palais, he helped found the St George’s Society of Quebec. Its first secretary, he subsequently became vice-president and president. According to one biographer he always gave generously to charitable appeals.

Kemble had lost his wife on 28 March 1839, and on 5 March 1845 he died at his residence on Rue des Grisons. His funeral was held in the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity at Quebec. Carrying their banner, the members of the St George’s Society led the impressive procession. Among those who signed the burial certificate was Kemble’s long-time colleague, John Charlton Fisher. The Quebec Mercury paid tribute to its former editor, stressing his quick-wittedness and his talents as a communicator.

Jean-Marie Lebel

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 30 mars 1839, 8 mars 1845; CN1-81, 15 juill. 1825, 2 févr. 1829, 23 juin 1831; CN1-188, 30 juill. 1824; 20 juin, 10 juill. 1826; 31 juill. 1827; 14 janv. 1831; CN1-230, 1er févr. 1813; CN1-253, 12 nov. 1823, 5 déc. 1826, 19 juin 1827, 6 août 1829. AVQ, V, B, 1826–30. PAC, MG 24, B1, 169. Quebec Mercury, 8 March 1845. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise. H. J. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). George Gale, Quebec twixt old and new (Quebec, 1915), 239. J. A. Macdonell, Sketches illustrating the early settlement and history of Glengarry in Canada, relating principally to the Revolutionary War of 1775–83, the War of 1812–14 and the rebellion of 1837–8 . . . (Montreal, 1893), 183. Claude Galarneau, “Les métiers du livre à Québec (1764–1859),” Cahiers des Dix, 43 (1983): 150, 159. “L’imprimeur du roi William Kemble,” BRH, 42 (1936): 361.

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Cite This Article

Jean-Marie Lebel, “KEMBLE, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kemble_william_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kemble_william_7E.html
Author of Article:   Jean-Marie Lebel
Title of Article:   KEMBLE, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   September 22, 2023